Tinnitus Habituation

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How Do We Habituate to Tinnitus

Because tinnitus is, as of yet, impossible to measure, we can't say how many people actually have it. Some people may have tinnitus but are completely unaware of it. Also, have the people who've got tinnitus always had it but only just started to 'hear' it?


Tinnitus usually gets better by going completely away or by being there and not bothering us. It often does this all by itself, and sometimes it might need some help. The brain just stops paying attention to it, and the internal sound fades from your awareness. We can help you achieve this.


This mental process is called habituation. When a person is suffering, it’s hard to imagine how something like this could be possible. When faced with the idea of habituation, many tinnitus patients instinctively think that they could never ignore something so terrible.


Imagine if you felt, heard, smelled, saw, and tasted everything all of the time. It would be sensory overload! Our brains are designed to constantly filter unimportant and non-dangerous things out of our consciousness. Your brain is doing this right now. If it can filter out all that, including actual real sounds, then why not tinnitus? Think about how some people choose to work in noisy environments, such as cafes. Our brains subconsciously choose what to focus on and bring to our awareness, and vice versa.


When a person has tinnitus, the filtering system is working fine, but the brain has 'tagged' the tinnitus sound as important because it's either useful or a threat. The more we worry about it, the more of a threat it's perceived to be and the more prominent it becomes. It might actually be useful if it's a symptom pointing towards a diagnosis of a more serious condition. This is unlikely, but an audiologist would be able to refer you to the right person for further checks if necessary. If it's nothing to worry about, then this might be enough to allay a person's fears, and the habituation process may well begin.


We believe that it’s possible for every tinnitus sufferer to habituate and that it's the best strategy for lasting relief. We just have to train the brain to subconsciously decide that your tinnitus is neither important nor threatening. It takes work, but patients finally find lasting relief from the tinnitus when the brain just tunes it out from conscious awareness like it does for all other meaningless sounds. Patients can get to a place where the tinnitus stops bothering them entirely.


For some, the habituation process happens naturally, but for others, the tinnitus can actually get worse. The brain begins to attach more negative emotions, consequently adding importance to the sound as the brain thinks that it's more dangerous than it actually is. To reverse this, we need to psychologically change the way a person reacts to their tinnitus.


Amongst other strategies, it is believed that a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and sound therapy will help facilitate the subconscious change to become unaware of the tinnitus. Sound therapy is best delivered in a targeted way through hearing aids following a comprehensive tinnitus assessment. A sound similar to tinnitus is delivered to the ear at a similar frequency and volume. Your brain knows that one of the sounds is non-threatening as it can be removed at any time. It becomes confused between the two sounds and starts to associate the tinnitus sound with the non-threatening one. Together, with changing the patient's thoughts about their tinnitus through counselling, the brain will begin to habituate the tinnitus and gradually become less aware of it at all times, whether the hearing aids are worn or not.

Habituation Therapy

For successful habituation, an effective strategy is required, and that is something that an audiologist will tailor for the individual. The patient needs to be disciplined and understand that it may take time to see results. The process itself isn't linear. Habituation is a progression, and for many people, it can be two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes it can also be a miraculous giant leap forward, and there's everything in between.


If your tinnitus is bothersome and is affecting your quality of life, the time and effort it takes to try and habituate to it will be worth it. It all begins with a tinnitus assessment from a tinnitus-specialising audiologist. Or why not take a quick online assessment first to ascertain how bothersome your tinnitus really is?